Saturday, January 15, 2005

Planting Seeds

Planting Seeds

Optimism is a characteristic of most ranchers. Even when we’re grumbling, we’re counting on Mother Nature to eventually be kind to us. When she isn’t kind and we find ourselves in year after year of drought, we try to plant a crop that depends more on sun than rain. We diversify and look to agri-tourism. All the while building relationships with people and groups of people who believe in us—building teams of people who can go from idea to reality.

It’s about planting seeds. Cultivating the seed bed carefully and then hoping that we’ve planted the seeds at the right season, praying for enough moisture to get the seeds sprouted. And then once the seeds have sprouted we’re right back to needing more water or more drought resistant seedstock. That’s how it is with marketing.

We’ve had some successes. Our familiarization tour for travel writers planted seeds and they have sprouted into magazine articles. On the eve of the publication of the Sunset article, we find that our website is a graphic instead of text. I’m not sure where to go next with this analogy … maybe it means that we bought the wrong kind of seed for one of our fields …very pretty but yielding little fruit. So we are frantically bouncing along with the dust a flying trying to get the infrastructure in place before the next rain and the sunrise/sunset that we know is coming. Consultants have been brought into the field and the website is taking on a new look. Mostly the changes are behind the scene—underground where the search engines crawl.

We’re building relationships with people who believe in us. Some people believe in us for what they have seen us do in past decades. For my part that means people in Livingston who watched me get things done in the health care field. I built relationships when I worked with a task force to get funding for our community health center thereby addressing the medical needs of low income residents. Sharon Walker was on my task force and she is now the chairperson for the Park County Alliance Development Corporation (PCADC). When she learned about our working ranch vacations, she put me in touch with the executive director of this economic development group and within a matter of days I was a member of their Agriculture Committee and spoke to that group at their meeting last Wednesday. This group is looking to find ways to make those of us in agriculture economically viable. PCADC is a think tank and they are scattering seeds all over the place. One idea is a plan to develop a county model for a state wide initiative based on the successes in Utah to promoting “Heritage Highway 89 from Yellowstone to Glacier.” Along with other celebrations of history and heritage, Montana Bunkhouses would be featured in that promotion.

Yesterday we spoke with Jeff Phillips on the phone. He believes in us. Our article will appear in Sunset in two weeks—a magazine that plans more than a year in advance will feature us twice in less than a year because he made it happen. He continues to read and enjoy the ranch reports and as a result he feels like he has spent the winter with us…he questioned Rick …when was he going to stop chasing coyotes with his car? and Rick’s ready reply was “when there are no more coyotes or when they stop making cars!” And as for writer’s block, he said “No fair!” At Sunset magazine they have agonizing annual issue planning sessions to come up with fresh new ideas…he says “it’s like cheating” because Karen has an unfair advantage--all she has to do is watch Rick and Rascal for inspiration.

That was when we learned that while Jeff was visiting Crazy Mountain Cattle Company last June, we were planting seeds for a bigger crop and we did not even know it. Jeff is very interested in the whole idea of the western family cattle ranch and sees us as an endangered species. And he understands that mad cow disease has put gasoline on the fire of people thinking more about where their food is coming from, where it is raised, and whether it was fed parts of other animals. He gets it. And while he realizes that the issue is more complex the more you look at it, he continues his case study regarding the future of the western ranch.

Sunset magazine and Jeff Phillips have for some time been looking at ranching in various parts of the west. Seeing how people are managing their land and resources trying to hold it together and find a way to pass it to the next generation. Everyone is diversifying their operations and he joked about our “rustlin’ tourists” in the hopes of remaining economically viable. He has been looking for a ranch that epitomizes the problems, issues, and concerns on a lot of different fronts. The search (in his words) has been for the “quintessential old fashioned 3rd, [4th or 5th]generation ranch that represents the issues that family ranches face.”

He believes he has found that ranch in Crazy Mountain Cattle Company. He sees the importance not only of the food/beef we raise, but the advantage of ranchers keeping lands open instead of having them subdivided. More importantly that he has found the ranch in a place with a sense of a bigger community--an agriculture community that is interconnected and working together to preserve our heritage and our way of life. That is how Montana Bunkhouses and Sweet Grass County ties into this.

At 4:00 am this morning it started raining. Since I started typing you all this report, it has continued to rain. The rain is most likely going to be the story of the day, watering our seeds. But there is anther story brewing. With our blessings, Jeff went in to his magazine’s planning session yesterday to propose a June visit to Big Timber and Crazy Mountain Cattle Company. He wants a story that will let his readers know what it is like to live and work on a cattle ranch. I can visualize myself dashing down the road in a sprint, throwing myself in to Jeff Phillips arms and giving him the most exuberant hug he has had in a long time. Thanking him for the opportunity we will have to put a face on agriculture.